Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A Mortal Reminder

"Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return."

This ancient prayer, recited as a cross is traced with ashes upon foreheads, heralds the beginning of Lent. For the next six weeks, the Catholic faithful will take time to reflect upon our human failings and make extra efforts to do better.

When I was a child, Lenten sacrifices consisted almost exclusively of "giving up" something. I would usually choose to forego my nightly candy bar, delivered by my father when he arrived home from work each evening. In the post-Vatican II era, a positive approach was more often emphasized. Lent became a time for increased charitable giving, volunteer work, spiritual reading, and prayer. I prefer this approach, and this year I've made my Lenten commitment to read more of St. Francis de Sales' works.

Whether we choose to deny or make demands upon ourselves, Lenten sacrifice benefits us. It reminds us of our human frailty. Often we find it difficult to adhere to our spiritual promise; the temptation to make excuses for ourselves is hardwired into our nature. As we struggle, we understand our need for Divine strength in everyday life. This realization leads to the conclusion that we derive our being from God. Our physical bodies are of the earth, upon our death they return to the earth, and each of us must give an accounting of our earthly life to God.

That's something worth being reminded about. I think I'll go start reading now.